Regardless of how this roller coaster season ends, it is already memorable for Tiger fans.
After winning just eight games last season and failing to win more than 10 in any of the last three seasons, Missouri (17-8, 7-5 in SEC through Sunday) notched its 17th win on Saturday, an 89-85 overtime win against Mississippi State at Mizzou Arena.
Saturday’s game was a three-act drama, gripping theater all by itself.
That single game distilled the themes of the season; excitement, success, the team’s shortcomings leading to a collapse, and then the Tigers battling back.
Missouri led by 12 with 90 seconds to go, a seemingly bulletproof lead, when the wheels came off. Mississippi State (18-7, 6-6 in SEC) roared back, creating a barrage of turnovers with a full-court press. Missouri has had point guard struggles all season, and they’re seldom more glaring than when facing a press late in a close game.
Tiger fans who had collected their coats, prepared to brave the icy elements for the postgame walk back to their vehicles, instead stood with blank stairs of disbelief as a Mississippi State three tied the game, and then Missouri had one of their patented horrendous final possessions in regulation. On to overtime.
The Bulldogs jumped to a five-point lead in overtime and it seemed like the collapse was complete. But Missouri showed some grit. They’ve played without consistent point guard play and without their top recruit Michael Porter Jr. all season, and on Saturday in overtime they played on without momentum.
Three free throws over two possessions to cut the deficit to two. A Kevin Puryear layup tied it. Then, after Mississippi State took the lead back with a free throw, Puryear buried a three-pointer in the corner to lift the Tigers to victory, their fourth straight.
It was nearly a disaster, but somehow Missouri pulled it out and moved into fourth place in the SEC standings. The Tigers’ season seems to be looking up, and experts keep predicting higher and higher seeds for Missouri in the NCAA Tournament.
The schedule has eased up a little, and Missouri could continue to rack up wins as the regular season heads into its homestretch.
The Tigers travel to Baton Rouge to face LSU on Saturday (1 p.m. on ESPN2).
LSU (14-10, 5-7 in SEC) has been having a quietly respectable season under first-year coach Will Wade. Freshman guard Tremont Waters and senior forward Drop Reath lead the way for the Tigers. It will be a challenge for Missouri’s big men to keep Reath contained without committing too many fouls.
LSU likes to play at a fairly quick pace, so it’ll be interesting to see who dictates the tempo. As is common for Cuonzo Martin teams, Missouri plays at a more deliberate pace, averaging the second-fewest possessions per game among SEC teams in conference games.
This is probably close to a coin-flip game. Missouri is a little better, but playing on the road is tough. Expect another close one.